Apple this week released the latest source code for its Darwin open-source project — Darwin 6.7 and 6.8 — which corresponds to the Mac OS X operating system and its latest versions, 10.2.7 and 10.2.8. Version 10.2.8 was recalled this week by the Cupertino, California-based company because of a reported Ethernet problem.
Among the most prominent of open-source projects from Apple, Darwin is based on FreeBSD 4.4 and is the core of the Mac OS X operating system. Through the integration of BSD and Mach 3.0 technology — which was originally conceived as a communications microkernel that offers cooperative multitasking — Darwin can offer advanced services like sendmail capabilities and Apache Web server.
Despite Apple’s move to pull the Mac OS X 10.2.8 update because it reportedly disrupted Ethernet networking connectivity, developers still can download the latest Darwin source code, including versions 6.7 and 6.8 for OS X 10.2.7 and 10.2.8, from Apple’s Darwin release site.
Industry analyst Rob Enderle told TechNewsWorld that while Microsoft is often viewed as most threatened by Linux and open-source software, Sun Microsystems and Apple might be experiencing more pain from the penguin.
“Apple is no longer the only alternative,” he said. “In the past year and a half, it’s Linux that’s been picking up those folks.”
Enderle also said that, unlike Sun and Microsoft, which often make up open-source losses on the hardware side, the Linux migration represents completely lost — not missed — opportunities for Apple.
While the company continues work on open-source BSD software, Enderle said Apple’s direction with the open-source community has been somewhat unclear, with possibilities of working with Intel as well as Linux blurred by lack of a road map.
Apple claims substantial contributions from thousands of outside developers, stating on the Darwin developer site that most of the code in Darwin comes from “upstream” sources — the primary organizations that maintain source code — “with very little Apple-only development.”
However, Enderle said Apple’s open-source efforts do not appear to be contributing much to the company, although Apple is known for its “stealth” projects that involve substantial development efforts but quietly progress beneath the industry’s radar.
Apple said its primary focus for Darwin is the formation of a community of users and developers with source-code releases intended to support Mac OS X. Still, the company expects others will use Darwin to customize OS X with additional services and features that are not necessarily a priority for Apple.
Apple also said it expects Darwin — which cannot run higher-level OS X software, such as Cocoa and Carbon toolkits — to eventually become the foundation for a complete, stand-alone open-source operating system.
Enderle said that while Darwin has a long way to go before it is a completely self-contained OS, the source code does have near-term potential for Linux despite the uncertainty of Apple’s strategy to use the project.
Despite the continued availability of Darwin source code, Apple pulled the Mac OS X 10.2.8 update from its site after some users complained it had deactivated Ethernet connectivity.
The company called the move temporary and reportedly said the update only impacted a limited number of Power Mac G4 systems, but it had not yet offered a fix for the problem as of Friday.
Apple user discussion boards also indicated other issues with the update, and the company was criticized for poor quality-assurance controls and the inconvenience caused to its users.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Apple should worry less about trying to compete with Linux, and think more about how it can benefit from Linux.
If I were Apple, I would forget about Darwin, and make OS X run on top of Linux instead, and contribute whatever device drivers and hardware specific code Darwin contains to Linux, and ship their G5’s with a PPC compiled version of Linux with OS X running on top of it. Sure this will require a bit of work, but in the end it would be the best decision they could ever make.
This way they don’t have to compete directly with Linux — they’d be running Linux, but would just include their proprietary desktop, system and software with their distribution.
This way community improvements to Linux would benefit Apple, and Apple improvements to Linux would benefit the Linux community. Apple would still be free to keep all of their proprietary OS X code closed.. and maybe they would make more of it open as time went on and they realize that OS software should be free, and they can push their hardware more.
If OS X became open source GPL (and BTW, that doesn’t mean Apple can’t still sell it… it just means that if you do, you have to make the source code available to people who buy it… and you can’t stop people who buy it from sharing it with their friends) then developers would be inclined to improve it outside of Apple, with no cost to Apple. Nobody else could steal it without having to follow the GPL.
If OS X were free, and ran on top of Linux (instead of Darwin), then a significant number of Linux users would be drawn to it (especially ex-Mac users), and Apple would sell more hardware.
Or Apple could keep OS X as proprietary boxed software, and work towards hardware independence whereby OS X would be made to run under x86 hardware as well as PPC (and other platforms as well), and encourage Apple software companies to provide "fat binary" applications which would run on all supported OS X platforms, regardless of the hardware.
In doing this, Apple would provide a springboard to hardware independence… and the GNU/Linux community has already done half the work for them. Steve Jobs has been pushing for such a thing since the days of the NeXT Step. Cross-platform OS X isn’t going to succeed unless Darwin was replaced with Linux.
Combine a GNU/Linux based OS X platform release with a next generation PPC "G6" cpu engineered to support emulating an x86 at P4 speeds (think of an Opteron-ish kinda chip where the 64bit part is PPC), and you’d be running Windows apps with Wine, Crossover Office, WineX, Win4Lin, VMWare, etc, etc if you really need to, and running native PPC apps along with thousands of open-source apps to boot.